The State of Britain

Grimsby praised by the House of Lords, Yorkshire and fracking, and the 30th anniversary of the Settle to Carlisle railway line reprieve

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Unemployment in Yorkshire & the Humber dropped slightly by 2,000 to 135,000 between December and February; a cut of 0.1% to 4.9% – the third highest in the UK. The SW of England had the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.6% and the NE of England had the highest at 5.6%. The national unemployment rate stands at 3.9% and average UK earnings grew by 3.5% or by 1.6% after inflation.

Y&H average property prices fell by 2.5% to £155,685 during the month which meant annually they were flat. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.8% to £226,234 during April which cut the annual growth rate to 0.6%.

There were some positive developments in East Yorkshire; first Siemens have submitted an outline planning application for a £200m facility to manufacture new London Underground trains in Goole. The factory could begin operating in 2023, creating about 700 jobs – the project was first unveiled in 2018 as part of London Underground’s £1.5bn ‘Deep Tube’ upgrade programme. Secondly, Grimsby will be the maintenance hub for the 90 turbines at Triton Knoll, a new wind farm off the Lincolnshire coast; more than 70 jobs are expected to be created. The wind farm will produce enough energy to power 800,000 homes; 35 miles of cable is being laid beneath Lincolnshire to connect the turbines to a new power station near Boston. Thirdly, condom maker, Reckitt Benckiser will open a new £105m R&D centre in Hull in June. And finally a House of Lords’ report, ‘The future of seaside towns’ praised Grimsby’s balanced approach to regeneration, highlighting the towns £67m project to improve its dock area and create thousands of homes.

The key tool used by the Government to address deprivation in seaside towns – the Coastal Communities Fund – has been deployed in Scarborough. Seagrown, was awarded £472,000 to establish a seaweed hatchery and hopes for its first crop from the North Sea within a year.

British Steel has announced it is to cut 400 jobs from its worldwide operations – the company employs 4,000 people at its Scunthorpe plant – but has not confirmed which locations will lose staff. Most of the redundancies will be in managerial, professional and administrative roles across its European businesses. British Steel was formed in June 2016 after Greybull Capital bought assets from Tata Steel.

The firm which runs the Yorkshire Post, the Sheffield Star and the Wakefield Express has announced up to 60 job losses. It is not clear where the (at this stage voluntary) redundancies will occur.

On retail, the Debenhams store in Lincoln has escaped the axe but M&S is to close in Boston after 100 years; 40% of the 49 members of staff have been redeployed to other sites.

On regional infrastructure, Lincolnshire County Council has awarded the earthworks contract on the £120m Lincoln Eastern Bypass to Amery Construction. The firm takes over from Hawk Plant Ltd which went into administration in January. In York, a £4m project to widen a bridge over the River Ouse has been completed.

On the railways, East Midlands Trains operator, Stagecoach, has been prohibited from bidding for three rail franchises because of a dispute over who carries the liability for pensions. Dutch operator Abellio has won the East Midlands Railway franchise instead. Abellio will run the franchise from August 2019 until 2027.

The UK’s first hybrid tram-train service which started in October 2018 between Sheffield and Rotherham has managed c500,000 journeys in six months. In Sheffield city centre it travels on the city’s tram tracks before switching onto rails before taking passengers to Rotherham. The project was two years late and costs ballooned from £15m to £75m.

On the 30th anniversary of its reprieve, Michael Portillo has explained why the government did a u-turn and kept the Settle to Carlisle Railway line open. An eight year campaign to save the 73-mile-long route across the Yorkshire Dales succeeded in increasing usage, and then an engineer found a way of repairing the Ribblehead Viaduct (pictured above) for a third of the cost, enabling Portillo to sign the reprieve order.

In the air, an extension to the terminal building at Leeds Bradford Airport has started. The project will include larger immigration and baggage reclaim areas, improved departure gate facilities and more bars and restaurants. Not such good news at Doncaster airport after Flybe reduced services as part of its winter schedule and – according to pilots union Balpa – will close its base at the airport.

Prosperity in northern England would be enhanced by a relaxation of the UK’s rules on fracking, says Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Also, the UK’s shale gas tsar – who has resigned after six months – said the industry was being throttled by rules preventing mini earthquakes. Under current rules, drilling must be stopped for 18 hours if it triggers earth tremors above a 0.5 magnitude on the Richter scale. This compares with America where a 4.0 limit is allowed and where, according to Ratcliffe’s energy firm Ineos, c1m shale gas wells have been drilled safely. Ineos has exploration rights in Yorkshire and believes that the UK could emulate the US shale gas boom – most of the UK’s shale gas reserves lie under the north of England. An American energy company, Alpha Energy, is buying Third Energy’s onshore fracking operations, including its planned site at Kirby Misperton in Ryedale, North Yorkshire.